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Opinion & Analysis

Why golf coaching works



When I started in the golf business, I knew that I wanted to teach the game. In order to do it at a high level, I shadowed some of the best instructors in golf. This was tremendously beneficial, as I learned that I needed to develop a philosophy that fit me and that I believed in. What made each instructor great was their ability to communicate with the student, and they did so in a clear and concise manner. Each also communicated a clear philosophy in which they deeply believed in.

However, what was always a bit troubling to me was the fact each and every lesson I witnessed took place on the driving range and not on the golf course where the game is played. Every lesson took place on the range, and most were based on what the student thought they needed to work on to get better. While this produced a lot of great looking golf swings, it did not always translate to lower scores, and we ALL ultimately want to shoot lower scores.

With the understanding that our ultimate goal is to shoot lower scores and enjoy the game more, I knew that I needed to teach on the golf course. This was paramount in order to learn exactly how my students played the game of golf. Getting on the golf course allowed me to take a true assessment of their game and learn their strengths and weaknesses. It allowed me to give the student what they actually need to succeed, instead of simply giving them what they thought they needed.

In 2017, I heard a podcast featuring Will Robins who was talking about the same concept and making the distinction between coaching and instruction. I believed in what he was talking about, and what separated a coach from a traditional instructor. It is exactly what I thought all along. I joined Will’s consulting group in 2017, and started to better implement what it meant to be a coach. With Will’s guidance the results I was able to achieve by fully committing to the Coaching Model speak for themselves. Coaching clearly works at all levels, let me tell you why.

It gives the student what they need, not what they want

Traditional golf instruction became so heavily focused on “customer service” and giving the student what they wanted, that it lost sight of the overall result. In order to achieve those great results, I believe in giving my students what they need. A perfect example of this is a personal trainer. Let’s say you have a wedding to go to in 2 months and you need to lose 10 lbs. That trainer is going to get you up early, make you stick to eating healthy, and make you sore after every workout to achieve the desired result. Then at the wedding, you love your personal trainer because you look and feel great. However, if that same trainer lets you dictate what you will eat, what you’ll work on during workouts, and when you’ll come back next, the trainer will fail miserably. In other words he is paid to give you what you NEED, to get you the result you want.

Assess your game on course in a team environment

In order to give my students what they need I must learn about how they play the game. Are they anxious on the first tee? Do they get mad at things they can’t control? Do they think their driver is awful, but had 44 putts? Instead of relying on guessing, I can create a game plan through the on course assessment. I like to do this in a team environment for a few reasons. It helps me simulate pressure and many times students will learn as much from each other as they do from me. It is a win-win for everyone.

Create an improvement plan and define your goals

Based on the game assessment I set up an improvement plan for each student. This allows us to set measurable goals. An example that Will Robins uses is 10 shots in 10 weeks. The goal could be anything really, most importantly it is specific to that student. I always like to set a goal based on score because that is ultimately what we want. Lower scores to make the game more enjoyable. The improvement plan gives us a common goal, it allows me to hold my players accountable, and also allows me to do whatever it takes to get them there. It also allows my players to hold me accountable to achieving their goal, creating a true partnership

Develop your mindset

As an instructor it is easy to stand on a range and tell someone what they are doing wrong. It is easy to say I know it all, because I’m the Pro. However, it is vital I get on the course and play golf with my students. I want them to see me be vulnerable, because I want them to understand like Bob Rotella said, “Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect.” We need to stop searching for the perfect golf swing. News Flash: Nobody Has It!! In other words we need to re-train our mindset, and learn that it is often what we do after a poor shot to recover that really helps us score better.

Map your plan, apply to your game and track performance

So often I see golfers trying to be perfect but they don’t know the REAL stats. All of my students know that PGA Tour players make 99 percent of putts from 3 feet, but they fail to understand that those same PGA Tour players only make 55 percent  from 6 feet. Go back to 10 feet and it drops to 35 percent. Yet time and again I see my students extremely upset after missing a 20 foot putt. The reality is most golfers are more likely to three putt from 20 feet than to make the putt. So I teach my students to simplify the game. I show them how to never make double bogey again by keeping the ball in play, and developing a great short game. When my students start to realize that the real game of golf means getting the ball holed in less shots, it changes their mindset. We use a specific scorecard to track stats that REALLY matter on the golf course and to track performance over time.

Tailor your plan through purposeful practice

When is the last time your instructor showed you exactly how to practice? Coaching is a mix of on course playing sessions and off course purposeful practice sessions. This allows me as coach the time to work on exactly what is wrong my students game. It could be anything, but most importantly it will be exactly what they need based on the playing session. Even more importantly we do both drills and tests to track progress on our practice scorecard. This allows the student to become less dependent on the instructor, and more independent, because they know what they need to do to improve each week.

Golf coaching works because it is focused on all aspects of the game, not simply technique. It teaches the golfer how to score, and how to do so under pressure in a team environment. It is results based rather than creating a “perfect golf swing.”  The concept is simple in nature, but is harder to execute and stay accountable to. For these reasons, I’d challenge you to seek out a golf coach rather than a traditional instructor for your next series of lessons.

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When Matthew began teaching in 2008 at Oakland Hills Country Club, most of his students were asking for him to fix their swing. After fixing golf swings for nearly a decade, he noticed that scores didn’t necessarily improve with the improved golf swing. He knew what his clients really wanted was to shoot lower scores! As most pros know, the key to scoring well isn’t hitting the ball further. It’s learning the REAL game of golf with one simple idea… get the ball in the hole in fewer tries than the other players. Matt started his new philosophy by taking a group of players on the golf course, observing each player’s game and developing a specific improvement plan for them while teaching them how to practice. The results were phenomenal! His players always drop shots off their game, and Matthew guarantees the results! Currently, Matthew is the PGA Head Golf Professional at Chequamegon Bay Golf Club in Ashland, WI. He is also the founder of "Great Data Golf." Born in 2016, Great Data Golf carries the vision of developing programs that make it easier to improve at the game of golf.



  1. John

    Jan 3, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Matt is a young professional who loves to teach and his method is not only very effective but very reasonably priced. Although even excellent golfers could
    benefit, he helped me shed beau-coup strokes, and I’m old enough to collect my pension. Yes, I had to put work in, but it was a blast and Matt was a riot to work with.

  2. Patricknorm

    Jan 1, 2019 at 8:20 am

    My coach starts each session for a few minutes on the range watching me go through my bag. We then hit the course to play usually 3 or 4 holes , with the emphasis on strategy and then refining certain aspects. I cannot stress the importance of coaching. You can be foolish and spend wasteful dollars on the shiniest new toy, or you can spend time perfecting your swing flaws. You should be properly fit for the correct equipment, but if you’re a serious golfer, coaching is the best bang for your buck.

  3. stan

    Dec 31, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    Very few golfers will benefit from this kind of teaching because very few are willing to make a commitment to training and practice. Most ‘golfers’ are immature non-athletic c r u d ….. and too stupid to learn and play well. I think this truth is obvious on this gearhead geek forum where ‘love’ is the equipment buzzword.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:18 pm

      So true and the proof is annual equipment model changes to exploit the desperation of incompetent golfers and childish golf club Lovers.

  4. Ed LeBeau

    Dec 31, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    This article is titled, “Why golf coaching works”. It implies that golf coaching is something better than golf instruction. If we define golf instruction as limited to swing technique then I agree. However, there are two factors underlying this matter. First, the player may want and in fact only need to improve their technique and second few instructors are presented with players who demonstrate their technique is adequate but their scoring is deficient.

  5. Paul Mattie

    Dec 31, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    This is the way my coach operates. Unless you do the home work you didn’t progress to the next step. He also had me on course not only where he taught but he also came to my place and spent 3 hours going over my troubles spots . This led to specific changes in club selection and course management.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:23 pm

      And how long did this teaching take, 6 months and several thousand $$$$$ ?
      You could have bought a new set of golf clubs annually and feel good.

  6. Scott Saunders

    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:51 am

    Big takeaway is cost effectiveness. Most golfers considering lessons will balk at on-course fees and opt for range lessons. You’re correct that course controls are the key to lowering scoring. The answer to this would be figuring out how to evaluate each student for their on-course weaknesses so that you can coach these issues on-range or indoors.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:20 pm

      Tangible new golf clubs versus intangible golf lessons…. and the winner is…. 😛

    • Clark Williams

      Jan 2, 2019 at 5:26 pm

      One reason why Matt’s “team approach” works is that he walks with 4 players for 3-9 holes, not every week but every second or third week in a 10 week program. This reduces the individuals cost yet allows Matt to provide individual attention and learn about each player and how they actually play the game. I found it stimulating, educational, cost effective and fun. Especially good for new comers and intermediate players who want to improve and are willing to put in some time.

  7. DS

    Dec 31, 2018 at 11:40 am

    My first ‘Shank’ rating. Not that what you wrote isn’t logical and the way much improvement should happen, but it’s totally unrealistic for the average golfer to afford. When instructors are charging $275+ for a 4 – 9 hole playing lesson, PLUS greens fees, your article is nothing more than a pipe dream.

    Since I called out your pipe dream, here’s mine:
    1) For these lesson factories (I’m looking at you, GolfTec), have a ‘pay for improvement’ arrangement. I’d pay $1k to lower my handicap by 5 strokes. And with GolfTec, they can actually monitor my effort so it’s not like I’m asking to spend 90 minutes in a bay and magically improve by 5 strokes. I’ll put in the work, they put in the expertise, and the results should happen. If they don’t, then they don’t get paid or at least they take a material cut from their fees. I got an email from GolfTec and responded with this idea. I’m sure there’s no surprise that pay for results isn’t anything they’re interested in.

    2) Same hourly rates on the course as at the range. Why is Joe Pro charging $65/hr at the range but essentially $125/hr on the course? Did he suddenly get much smarter when real balls are used? I don’t think so, and this ridiculous price gouging needs to stop. Do you care about growing the game and having students get better, or is this just a way to make a fast couple of hundred bucks on your sucker student’s back?

    3) Stop being so contradictory with each other. Had a great experience in NC for a 3-day school, but they started with ‘so tired of people telling me they need to keep their head down, or they want to stop swinging over the top’. I called them out on it because so many amateurs struggle with both, including me. Their response was to bring up Annika and Stenson and say with a wry smile ‘I think we’d all agree their pretty good’. To which I said – name me another one who swings like that? Crickets. Then I said Furyk is pretty good, as was (is?) Jim Thorpe – are they going to teach those swings? It’s this kind of contradictory BS that leaves amateurs confused.

    No skin in the game, cost, and inconsistent approaches are big issues with how the game is taught today. If you pros don’t change your ways, don’t complain as we watch the game get less and less popular.

    • Matt

      Jan 2, 2019 at 2:32 pm

      I would love to learn more about your thoughts on how to improve golfers, adding a ‘skin in the game’ component. Hit me up with a DM in the forums. Strolf or email me

    • Clark Williams

      Jan 2, 2019 at 5:18 pm

      Not true, I personally worked with Matt last summer, ten weeks (actually more due to rain outs) significantly less than $500(the cost of a driver). I had a severe back issue that flared up so was unable to practice effectively yet learned a lot about my game. Many at our course who worked with Matt saw significant improvement and more importantly had a better understanding of the game and therefore enjoyed their experience more.

    • A. Commoner

      Jan 3, 2019 at 12:27 pm

      absolutely love your post

  8. Moxley

    Dec 31, 2018 at 4:19 am

    Interesting article.

    I’ve no doubt that there is a place for your style of coaching, but I think it is better suited towards younger, elite golfers. I’m not so sure this is suited to the regular mid/high capper at the golf club who just wants to fix his slice or hit it a few yards further.

    Your assertions about what golfers need starts with the assumption that success is defined as scoring better, but I think for more recreational golfers, success is simply having fun when playing with their mates. What they want is a few quick wins, something that is going to make them a little bit better without taking the fun away (i.e. clubbing down), and something to have fun working on – all of this needs to come at an affordable price, because for most, golf is just a hobby.

    Serious golfers will always need serious golfers, but the objectives won’t always be the same with the average golfer.

  9. wilbur

    Dec 31, 2018 at 12:48 am

    Great article but does the instructor/teacher/mentor help you pick out the best golf clubs for your game. Unless you have the best driver to best putter it’s all futile because the equipment is what counts in the final analysis.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      Bingo!!! The ‘best’ golf clubs will transform your swing and game overnight.

  10. Ryan

    Dec 30, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    Great idea and approach, but I’m sure this type of service is not cheap.

    • Bill Simpson

      Dec 31, 2018 at 4:26 pm

      Yes, not cheap….. and neither are the ‘best’ golf clubs.

  11. Obee

    Dec 30, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    Love this approach.

  12. Tom L

    Dec 30, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    Sounds great but potentially pricey

  13. Michael Deiters

    Dec 30, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    Good stuff. All “instruction” should look like this.

  14. 2putttom

    Dec 30, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    instructors I use teach on the course (when applicable) it has been beneficial and rewarding.

  15. dj

    Dec 30, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    I like your idea of a metric that is measurable.

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The Gear Dive: Rocco Mediate



In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Fujikura, Johnny has a serious heart-to-heart with six-time Tour Winner and all-around legend Rocco Mediate. This is a must-listen! They talk gear, sobriety, the 2008 U.S. Open, and Rush.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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The Gear Dive WITB Edition: Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates talks Viktor Hovland



In this WITB Edition of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with Ping Tour rep Kenton Oates on the ins and outs of Puerto Rico Open Champion Viktor Hovland’s golf bag.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

They also cover Jim Wells Putters and the legendary Ping Eye 2 wedge.

Viktor Hovland WITB

Driver: Ping G410 LST (9 degrees @ 8.5; flat standard, CG shifter in draw)
Shaft: Project X HZURDUS Black 6.5 (44.5 inches, D3 swing weight)

3-wood: TaylorMade M5 (15 degrees @ 14.5)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Tensei Blue AV 85 TX

Irons: Callaway X Forged UT (21 degrees), Ping i210 (4-PW)
Shafts: Graphite Design Tour AD DI-85 X Hybrid (21), KBS Tour 120 X (4-PW)

  • Standard length, .5 degrees flat, D2+

Wedges: Ping Glide 3.0 (50-SS, 56-SS @ 55, 60-TS)

  • 50SS (35.25 inches, 1-degree flat, D3, “Half Moon” Grind)
  • 56SS (35 inches, 1.5-degree flat, D3+)
  • 60TS (34.75 inches, 2-degrees flat, D4)

Shafts: KBS Tour-V 130 X

Putter: Ping PLD Prototype “Hovi”

  • 36″, 20-degree lie, 2.5-degree loft, stepped shaft

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Grips: Golf Pride MCC White/Black 58R

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Realistic expectations



(Today’s post is one I actually wrote nearly eight years ago, but I’m using it to start a series about “thinking your way to better golf.” I hope you enjoy the next few weeks.)

One of the great regrets of my life is that I missed the fatherhood experience, never having had children of my own. As I get older, I find that I gravitate to the younger folks, and offer my help whenever I can, whether on the golf course, on the water fishing, or just life in general. One of my joys is working with younger kids on their golf. That includes instruction, of course, but what I think is more important for them in the developmental stages is to learn to manage
their expectations. Actually, we all could benefit from that bit of advice.

On Sunday, I had the joy of playing with the 16-year-old son of one of our partners at SCOR Golf. Kyle is a tremendously talented young man who I’ve worked with quite a bit, but he really hasn’t committed himself to golf yet. I’m talking about the kind of commitment that keeps him working hard at it as long as there is daylight. He might not ever get that, and that’s OK, but he hasn’t figured out yet that your expectations can only rise from your achievements, and not from your desires.

On a core level, Kyle has great strength but hasn’t learned to harness it yet. He wants to choose his clubs based on his maximum distance with that club—if everything falls exactly into place. Like most golfers, and especially young ones,
he’s enamored with the power game. When we play, I show him that throttling back and controlling the shot is much more reliable.

What I discovered Sunday is that Kyle has very unrealistic expectations about what a round of golf should really be like. He, like most of us, expects all the shots to be struck solidly and fly like he imagined. So I explained that he hasn’t
earned the right to have such expectations yet. His scores average around 90-95 and his best ever is an 85.

So, here’s my point (finally)

Kyle was off to a good start with three pars and two bogeys in his first five holes. He kind of “fat-pulled” a 4-iron approach on a 200-plus yard par three. His shot left him only 10-15 yards short and left of the green, but he wheeled around, dropped his club and expressed his disgust with the shot. And I got on him about it. “What’s wrong with that? It’s a difficult par-3 with a 20 mph crosswind and you are in good position to get up and down or at least make no worse than bogey on one of the hardest holes on the course.”

I went on to explain that he was only two pars away from tying his best round ever, and if he just played for bogeys – and stay excited—he would probably make twice that many or more. And I seemed to get through to him of the reality
of golf, or his golf at least. He stayed in the moment, with only a little more cajoling from me, and shot an 86—one shot off his best ever! And I MADE him congratulate himself on his accomplishments. Instead of focusing on those few
shots that were bad, and the 2-3 doubles he made, I told him to focus on the good that came out of that round.

So, here’s my point (or points) for managing your expectations, too.

  1. If you are a low single-digit player, you’ll still only hit 2-3 shots a round just like you wanted.
  2. If you play to a 12 or higher, any shot that keeps you in the game isn’t really all that bad.
  3. Regardless of your skill level, there is no such thing as a “birdie hole” when you are standing on the tee. A “birdie hole” can only be claimed when you have executed an approach to makeable putt range.
  4. If you are a 12-15 handicap player, you only need to make 3-6 pars to beat your handicap, as long as you don’t chop up any holes. Bogeys are good scores unless you regularly shoot in the 70s!

So, the next time you are on the golf course, try to set and manage realistic expectations. Your golf will be better for it, and you’ll have a ton more fun.

NOTE: I read a great article this morning by Geoff Ogilvy about the quality of golf being played on the PGA Tour. It reflects what I’ve often said about how the modern tour professional plays the game. Here it is.

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